Thursday, May 30, 2013

Modern Art Masterpieces in "Indiscreet" (1958): Highlighting the work of John Piper, Picasso and Rouault

I just saw a charming little classic romantic-comedy the other night called Indiscreet (1958) starring Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant. 
For its incredible casting, you never hear much about it. I mean, sure it’s just another small plot movie, but it has some of the greatest stars ever in the lead. Of course, if I’m recommending classic films with Grant and Bergman, I advise Notorious all the way, but, as it is, I am here to talk about Indiscreet.
Made in 1958, Indiscreet was made during the end of the Production Code era, so the script is a little dull. Unlike the Doris Day-Rock Hudson movies made a few years later, Indiscreet lacks some of the funny situations and sexual humor. But Ingrid is glowing and at the top of her form as, of all things, an award-winning actress in London and Cary is as charming and debonair as always as her American suitor. He would later say this was his favorite film to make. 

The film’s premise is based in the fact that Ingrid’s character, Anna decides to have an affair with Phillip (Grant), even though he tells her he’s married. The catch is, he’s single and the climax of the movie hinges on her reaction. It’s funny, sweet, but truly, kinda not-extraordinary. But don’t get me wrong, its stellar casting and moments of sparkling dialogue make it a nice little, non-extraordinary pleasure at that!
One of the aspects of the film that really caught my eye while watching was Anna’s apartment, which is one of the chief sets of the movies, where most of the important things go down. First off, the focal point is the sitting room, with a centered fireplace surrounded by frames of various colors. It creates this extraordinary canvas, or composition, for the action to play out in front of.
I say canvas because I feel a lot of the film is based in visual. Phillip and Anna’s affair takes them to the scenic locations of London (filmed on location) and Ingrid wears some stunning costumes throughout. The point of the picture is really to watch Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, not to follow the silly plot. It’s all about watching, even indiscreetly (!)

When you look at the set more closely though, you notice Anna’s apartment is covered wall to wall in some stunning paintings and drawings that appear to have been created by some of the finest modern artists of the time. And you wouldn’t be wrong!

According to TCM, a 1958 New York Times article claimed that the British set designers Messel and Furse lent works from Picasso, Roualt, John Piper and Raoul Dufy for the set. So, after I read this, I started examining some close-ups to see how my art history knowledge could help me identify some pieces.

I believe the framed pictures are Picasso sketches, but I’m not sure. I know a lot of Picasso sketches were used, and I think that would be the obvious place to showcase them. You never get a super clear look. There’s also one cubist portrait that could be a Picasso but I’m not sure.

At first, I thought that portrait of a woman might be a Modigliani, but now I’m not sure, what do you think? At some angles, it has the distorted look, but at others, not so much. I also think that Mother and Child painting is almost definitely a Rouault. 

One artist’s works I can identify quite easily are those of John Piper. He’s not very well known in American circles, but he was one of the foremost British Modern painters. He painted some extraordinary pictures of the bombed Canterbury Cathedral during the Second World War and he also designed stained-glass windows for the new Cathedral.

His work is actually featured quite nicely. In one scene, Anna and Phillip are walking through London, and Anna (who is obviously an art collector) spies this modern painting in the window of the Leicester Gallery (a real place, as it so happens). Cue next scene, when Phillip gives it to her. This is almost one-hundred percent a Piper. It has that iconic look of some of his later work. Don’t you think so?
Ventor, Isle of Wight

I think this painting works for multiple reasons. First, it appears to be mainly a composition, much like the set of Anna’s apartment. So in a sense, the balance of color and shape fits in such a room. Secondly, Piper was a contemporary British painter that people would have been familiar with to such a high class contemporary clientele.

I think that landscape of countryside might also be a Piper, but then again, this whole post is speculation. That fireplace painting especially, I really wish I could get a good look at it. If you know better, please let me know.

This is another instance of art being used in a movie to make the set appear more realistic and pleasant to the viewer. The examples used were contemporary modern masterpieces. How neat would it be to see the prop list for this movie? “One Picasso, One Roualt, etc.” (!) Also, the one highlighted piece of the film serves as a miniature composition for the film, a lovely balance of shape and color and movement and overall pleasant, though certainly not awe-inspiring. 


  1. Thank you for featuring one of my favourite films. I am trying to find the title of the John Piper painting Cary gifts to Ingrid. Can't seem to find the image anywhere but here. Good for you.

    1. Just to clarify, I do not know the title of the painting. Also, in fairness, my identification of the painting as a John Piper is a very educated guess. There is a chance I could be wrong. I just don't want to lead you down the wrong path.

  2. In the photo where Grant's back is in the center of the image you can see, over the red lamp, a little, square, picture of a girl's profile. It`s a well-known Picasso, but may be it's only a print, as the big one close to the entrance of the house... Great post. Thanks for your blog!.


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